A HIGH-ACHIEVING private school is applying to become Sunderland’s first “free” school after announcing new plans to scrap fees.
Parents have inundated Grindon Hall Christian School with inquiries after learning of the proposals, which would see it gain state funding, but remain independent of the local education authority.
The aim of a free school is to allow groups of parents, teachers or charities to establish their own school, allowing them the freedom to set their own ethos and subject specialisms.
Chris Gray, principal at Grindon Hall, said: “We’ve been around for 23 years and I am a founder director. It has always been our aim to keep our fees as low as possible, we are not a money-making organisation.”
He said the ethos of the Nookside-based school has always been to provide a high-quality Christian education, which is available to all and the Government’s free school policy could be a way of making that vision a reality.
Children who are already at the school will stay and siblings will get priority, but sooner or later one of the main criteria for a place will be the proximity of families living in the area.
Mr Gray said the school, which last year came joint top in Sunderland for GCSE results, is not a selective one. There has never been an academic admissions test and that would not change if it became a free school in 2012.
Mr Gray was also keen to reassure parents that the school, and its teaching methods, including much smaller class sizes, would not change.
The application is expected to be decided later this year.
One parent, who has a child at the school, said: “We have heard all about this and I like the idea in principle.
“I just hope that standards remain unchanged.”
Mr Gray added: “It is by no means a certainty that this will go ahead. It might never happen, but the initial response from parents has been enormous.”
If the plans do go ahead, it will give families living in the community extra choice of where they would like to send their child, regardless of cost.
Free schools are non-profit making, independent schools, funded directly from the state and set up due to demand.